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Five Things to Look for at the Blue-White Game

by on March 29, 2017 9:58 AM

Finally, the Nittany Lions are close to full strength again after the NCAA sanctions. That means more quality depth and young talent. Which could produce a more interesting and meaningful Blue-White Game in Beaver Stadium on April 22.

At least this fan-friendly scrimmage should highlight more up-and-coming stars than usual. From returning starters to possible first-time stars, such as redshirt freshman defensive end Shane Simmons, to walk-ons you’ve never even heard of.

Here are five things to look for in the game that signals the end of Penn State spring practice ...

1. Who is anchoring the offensive line?

The Nittany Lions must audition a new center to replace underappreciated senior Brian Gaia. Someone who can handle not only snapping and blocking but also calling out line shifts, blitzes, and stunts. Head coach James Franklin says he will start spring practice there by relocating sophomore guard Connor McGovern. But will that still stand by the end of April? Other possibilities include walk-on Zach Simpson, true freshman Mike Miranda, and redshirt freshman Michal Menet, arguably the program’s top offensive line recruit in a decade or more.

2. Who looks the part at linebacker?

While the middle is stacked, led by senior Jason Cabinda, there still are experience and depth issues at the outside spots. Junior Manny Bowen gets first crack at one of them. He seems primed to be a true difference-maker this fall with his speed and attack instincts. But the other spot should be an intriguing battle between converted safety and return man Koa Farmer and 6-foot-5 Cam Brown. Other possibilities include Jake Cooper (missed most of last season to injury) and true freshman Brelin Faison-Walden, an early enrollee.

3. Is quarterback Tommy Stevens ready if needed?

After losing an apparent close starting race last summer to Trace McSorley, Stevens became a fan favorite for bowling over defenders during cameo appearances. He certainly possesses the size (6-4, 220 pounds), but his leadership and on-field production must be in doubt until proven otherwise.

“We really look at it as if we have two starting quarterbacks that we feel like we can win with,” Franklin said as spring practice opened. “I think Tommy realizes that, as well, and he needs to approach it that way for the long term. Because what I found in my 23 years [in coaching] is the minute you let your guard down, that’s when the opportunity comes.”

4. Which receivers are ready to take the next step?

The group will be led by senior possession guy DaeSean Hamilton. Beyond that, there are plenty of options but no sure-bets. It would help if at least one of the Twin Towers — redshirt freshmen Juwan Johnson and Irv Charles — becomes a reliable option. Plus, gifted big-play senior Saeed Blacknall must stay healthy and produce more consistently to truly step in for last year’s top receiver Chris Godwin. Also, watch for yards-after-the-catch from smaller and speedier DeAndre Thompkins and Brandon Polk.

5. How much better is Miles Sanders?

Heisman Trophy hopeful Saquon Barkley figures to play little, if at all, in the scrimmage. Which means there should be plenty of carries for backups such as Andre Robinson and Mark Allen. But Sanders, the nation’s former No. 1 tailback recruit, is the key. He is vastly talented and bulked up nearly 30 pounds in the past year. He looked tentative and struggled at times last fall, especially as a kick returner. If he takes a significant growth step, Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead's high-powered offense will be that much more diverse and tougher to defend.

 



Frank Bodani, a beat reporter for the York Daily Record, has covered Penn State since 1994.
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